Commit 0681f13d authored by Hannah Brooks-Motl's avatar Hannah Brooks-Motl
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Update Community “2022-03-02-syncopation-citation-and-scholarly-publishing”

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templateKey: community
title: 'Syncopation, Citation, and Scholarly Publishing'
summary: >-
Priscilla Lee (‘25) on decentering Western tradition and how it can lead to
Priscilla Lee (‘25) on decentering western tradition and how it can lead to
greater bibliodiversity
date: 2022-03-02T19:41:12.226Z
---
Last semester, the Amherst Choral Society [performed an a cappella arrangement](<https://www.instagram.com/p/CVYhgNZP4t8/>) of “Water Fountain” by tUnE-yArDs. When we received the sheet music in rehearsal, I was drawn to a curious two-measure phrase: “se pou zan-mi mwen, se pou zan-mi mwen.” A footnote explained that it was Haitian Creole for “It is for my friends, it is for my friends.” At Amherst College Press, we had just been working on promotion for[ *The Border of Lights Reader*](https://www.fulcrum.org/concern/monographs/1v53k057r?locale=en), an anthology of multimodal works about the 1937 massacre of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. This sent me down a Google spiral of tUnE-yArDs interviews, song critique, lyric analysis, and finally, to questions of cultural appropriation, epistemic justice, and bibliodiversity in open access publishing.
Last semester, the Amherst Choral Society performed an a cappella arrangement of “Water Fountain” by tUnE-yArDs. When we received the sheet music in rehearsal, I was drawn to a curious two-measure phrase: “se pou zan-mi mwen, se pou zan-mi mwen.” A footnote explained that it was Haitian Creole for “It is for my friends, it is for my friends.” At Amherst College Press, we had just been working on promotion for[ *The Border of Lights Reader*](https://www.fulcrum.org/concern/monographs/1v53k057r?locale=en), an anthology of multimodal works about the 1937 massacre of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. This sent me down a Google spiral of tUnE-yArDs interviews, song critique, lyric analysis, and finally, to questions of cultural appropriation, epistemic justice, and bibliodiversity in open access publishing.
“Water Fountain” is a single from the albumNikki Nack, which had the working title ofSink-o. In [an article she wrote for Talkhouse](https://www.talkhouse.com/merrill-garbus-tune-yards-talks-haiti-and-exploring-a-non-western-musical-tradition/), Merrill Garbus (singer-songwriter of tUnE-yArDs) says “Sink-o” came from her “obsession with the word ‘syncopation.’” Expanding further, she writes:
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"Syncopation derives its definition from what it is not: rhythmically speaking, it’s not what you “expect” to happen; it’s a 'deviation' from the 'norm.' The word assumes that you are situated in a western music tradition."
“Water Fountain” is a single from the album *Nikki Nack*, which had the working title of *Sink-o*. In [an article she wrote for Talkhouse](https://www.talkhouse.com/merrill-garbus-tune-yards-talks-haiti-and-exploring-a-non-western-musical-tradition/), Merrill Garbus (singer-songwriter of tUnE-yArDs) says “Sink-o” came from her “obsession with the word ‘syncopation.’” Expanding further, she writes:
“Syncopation derives its definition from what it is not: rhythmically speaking, it’s not what you “expect” to happen; it’s a ‘deviation’ from the ‘norm.’ The word assumes that you are situated in a western music tradition.”
This idea of being educated to think of the western tradition as the norm is something I’m increasingly aware of as an international student. Garbus was raised in New York City and attended Smith College; no doubt she began musical training with western instrumentation, theory, and notation. Across the ocean in Hong Kong, I also learned western notation, played western classical music, and sang English hymns in choir.
When Garbus began to learn Haitian drumming patterns—which feature heavily in “Water Fountain”—she found it difficult to let go of western counting: "I found I had no idea where the downbeat was, the 'one' count. I was sweating, I wanted to stop playing."
When Garbus began to learn Haitian drumming patterns—which feature heavily in “Water Fountain”—she found it difficult to let go of western counting: I found I had no idea where the downbeat was, the one count. I was sweating, I wanted to stop playing.
If the liveliness of its polyrhythms is what made “Water Fountain” into a hit, then we must contend with the question of cultural appropriation. [In a 2018 interview](https://www.theringer.com/music/2018/2/6/16980182/tune-yards-merrill-garbus-private-life), four years after the album came out, Garbus admitted that “‘world-music-influenced indie rock’ is rotten to the core” in how it takes from other cultures. In the *American Music Review*, [Micahel P. Lupo points out](http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/web/academics/centers/hitchcock/publications/amr/v43-2/lupo.php) the tensions of Garbus “as an up-and-coming ‘indie’ star, legitimate talent, and white female appropriator of the music of Africa and the Diaspora” but also asks how it can be viewed “as a method for articulating alterity, that is, as a means of exposing alienating structures of power.”
As far as I can tell from reading her interviews, Garbus’s decision to learn Haitian drumming patterns came from a place of curiosity and a desire to expand her art beyond the constraints of the western music tradition. She wanted to unprogram her western music training and create something different, something that challenges the centrality of western tradition. Whether these motivations are valid, ethical, or accurate are up for debate.
However, I do understand her desire to get outside of the tradition—in her case, the tradition of western music theory. Today, western norms and systems have become so ubiquitous that it is difficult to see them for what they are: an arbitrary set of rules. Often, it feels like that’s just the way things are, that we can’t change any of it because then everything would collapse. In the world of academia, publishers and institutions in the Global North continue to hold many resources and much authority, and they operate on systems that we can sometimes take for granted as the way of things.
However, I do understand her desire to get outside of the tradition. Today, western norms and systems have become so ubiquitous that it is difficult to see them for what they are: an arbitrary set of rules. Often, it feels like that’s just the way things are, that we can’t change any of it because then everything would collapse. In the world of academia, publishers and institutions in the Global North continue to hold many resources and much authority, and they operate on systems that we can sometimes take for granted without question.
Take the idea of citations as a metric of success. Before this internship, I saw it as an unshakeable pillar of academia, and thought it fundamentally distinguished between what does and doesn’t count as "Scholarly Knowledge." To clarify, I’m not talking about the practice of citation itself; citing Haitian vodou as a source and giving credit to her Hatian-born drum teacher Daniel Brevil is a piece of driftwood that (maybe) keeps Garbus afloat in the murky waters between cultural appreciation and appropriation. What I’m talking about is judging the value of a piece of scholarship based on how many times it’s been cited by other scholars.
......@@ -36,7 +38,7 @@ But there’s an opportunity to do something more—a lot of which is already ha
The editors of *The Border of Lights Reader* were mindful of this, and for this reason, the anthology includes untranslated submissions in four languages. As they write in the introduction, the volume “seeks to provide an equal platform for voices from both on and off Hispaniola while also aiming to de-prioritize a US-based academic lens.” On why they chose to publish open access:
"The goal is that anyone, especially Haitian and Dominican students on both sides of the border, are able to access the contents of this Reader free of charge. One of our aims in discussing the ideal format for this project centered on moving away from a hierarchical organization, in particular one that is published in one language, but not another."
The goal is that anyone, especially Haitian and Dominican students on both sides of the border, are able to access the contents of this Reader free of charge. One of our aims in discussing the ideal format for this project centered on moving away from a hierarchical organization, in particular one that is published in one language, but not another.
As for diversifying knowledge, ACP's former intern Angel Musyimi wrote [this community post](https://acpress.amherst.edu/community/2021-07-16-scholarly-publishing-and-injustice-centering-indigenous-knowledge-for-the-sake-of-humanity/) on how open access scholarship must work to support, sustain, and center Indigenous knowledge.[ *Radical Roots*](https://www.fulcrum.org/concern/monographs/rf55z988p?locale=en), another title from last year, puts into practice some of these methods. It centers oral history as a mode of scholarship, taking advantage of digital publication and including audio files along with transcripts of the interviews.
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